As the world adapts to treating people with disabilities holistically, physical fitness has become a hot topic. Once the goal for people with physical and even intellectual disabilities – where no physical impairment exists – was simply to exist without worry for cardiovascular health or personal fulfillment. Over the past decade, that has changed as the landscape for treating people with disabilities has evolved.
One area to see this expansion is adapted (or adaptive, depending on the industry or state) physical fitness through both physical therapy and school physical education.
Julie Weibe is a veteran physical therapist with more than 20 years of clinical experience. Her particular area of interest is in post-partum women who have pelvic floor dysfunction, but a growing number of other people have pelvic floor issues, and Weibe’s work, including pioneering a physical therapy regimen to help these people, could alter the way pelvic floor dysfunction is treated.
Joey Feith is an elementary-school PE teacher at St. George’s School of Montreal where he works with a range of students to help them improve their physical fitness option. Feith runs the website www.ThePhysicalEducator.com where he works to teach people about how to incorporate physical education more fully into their school’s day. Through the site’s social media programs, such as their Twitter feed, Feith is able to reach a broader group of educators, through thought-provoking pieces on topics like how to assess whether a student is able to learn effectively in a PE class.
At Friendship Circle, a school for children with disabilities in Michigan, parent Karen Wang, author of My Baby Rides the Short Bus, gives ideas for ways children with disabilities can be included in PE classes. That may mean working to reduce ambient sound for children with sensory integration issues, or it could be slightly altering traditional activities to make them workable for physical limitations. Wang’s work, and that of Friendship Circle in general, aims to make PE a better experience for all students.
Another group of people work to make a difference by arguing for healthcare and insurance law changes. Some of these changes would make exercise options available more broadly for people with disabilities.
Donna Ellington, a school psychologist in the Berkeley County (SC) Schools, considers herself a healthcare activist and shares her thoughts on why universal healthcare solutions could aid in the development of better healthcare solutions. Ellington has created a repository of information with stories and data advocating for universal healthcare solutions, such as Medicare for All.
On the other hand, Christopher Alterio, a certified occupational therapist with a doctorate degree, advocates for better healthcare by discussing the many ways in which healthcare professionals make decisions for financial, rather than patient care, reasons. For Alterio, occupational therapists often face ethical dilemmas that affect how they can treat their patients. When it comes to insurance billing, for example, Alterio feels that one important question the profession should “measure impact in terms of lives affected or in dollars spent.” While the lives affected obviously is more important, the money can have an impact how patients are treated. For people with disabilities who are looking for physical outlets to improve their condition, the current state of occupational therapy may not provide the best outcome, and Alterio uses his voice to argue for a different way that allows patients the best outcomes even if it does not generate the most money.
The volunteer world is also catching wind of the need to provide assistance for people with disabilities. Gopher Sports is one example of an adapted PE curriculum that is available for use in a variety of schools. Jo Dixon, proponent of this system, is a physical education department chair at a Colorado middle school. She works to teach other PE teachers how to create mentor systems that allow able-bodied students to work with special needs students on how they can play sports or engage in exercise. This program gives both groups of students the opportunity to expand their experiences.
A third group has sought to address this issue through technology.
David Mou, who holds both an MD and MBA, is the founder of Valera Health. This start-up, in business since 2015, works to find ways to follow-up with mental health patients through apps that mental health patients can have on their smartphones to help them with managing their care after release from in-patient or other intensive mental health therapies. This application is aimed at helping people with mental illness by allowing their clinicians to monitor, through the app’s collection of data, whether a patient is doing well. The app would allow doctors to connect with patients before they reach a crisis state, reducing their need for in patient healthcare services.
Stephen Cluskey is another example of a disability rights entrepreneur. Cluskey’s company, Mobility Mojo, works to help people with mobility disorders figure out how they fit into the world of travel. The goal for the company is to be a sort of directory for people who need handicapped-accessible information for travel.
Regardless of whether an issue is addressed through education, activism, or technology, the landscape is ever-changing for those among us with disabilities.
I'm a recovering journalist now living a Renaissance life working as a writer & political strategist. I also am the mom to 2 children, one of whom has autonomic dysfunction & Hypermobility Spectrum Disorder, I write about politics and healthcare in North Carolina.